Category Archives: Discussions

A few simple tips to help start your food blog

Have you been thinking about diving into the blogging world? We would love to have you! Lately I’ve been receiving emails from people asking for advice and below are the short and simple tidbits I have to offer.

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Find a platform that works for YOU Everyone will have advice on what the best platform is, but our worlds all turn just a little bit differently. What works for someone else, may not be what works for you. Do your homework and before settling on a platform, go with a free trial. If you find you like it, take note, and then find another platform and do a different free trial. Yes, really. Don’t settle on the first one that “works” for you. Give at least 3 different platforms a test drive before settling in.

Remember to unsubscribe to those you won’t be utilizing to avoid unwanted charges.

Authenticity I can’t stress the importance of this. Too often I see new bloggers emulating established personalities and readers pick up on this quickly. Be you. As you grow into your craft, you will find the voice and exclusive style that you’re comfortable with and that your readers and viewers will love.

Take notice of new trends but don’t copy Do you see a new photo trend, color spot or angle that catches your eye? Great! It’s boring to do the same thing all the time, and if it’s boring for you, you know the readers had enough, too.

Take note and put your creativity to work. How can you put that to use without duplicating? Take two steps forward with the idea and see what you come up with. Give it a tweak and twist so that it works well with your own brand.

Call your friends Yes. Bother your friends. Do you have a great photographer in your social circle? Ask for advice or hire her for a day and look in the lens through her/his eyes. Get a different perspective.

We all have that one friend that entertains often, ask them for gorgeous serving dishes to use for plating and presentation in your photographs.

Shake things up a bit Keep your photos interesting with different boards, cloths, stones, dishes and backdrops. You can photograph in the same location each session, yet your photographs look completely different. An easel covered in cloth changes your background (blur) and boards and stones change your surface. I’ve even used the gorgeous white tile in my bathroom as background with a few twinkle lights added for “texture”. Be creative. More than likely you have everything you need in your own closets and cupboards.

Ingredients Today’s readers skim first. If they like what they see they will settle in and read. Sprinkle your ingredients in the product shot so with just a glance they can determine if they will use the recipe or continue their search.

Keep it simple Your readers will love you for this. When readers search for a recipe, they just want the recipe. Keep your story short and light and get to the point. Idea:  Have a story to tell? Create a separate post and add a link inside your recipe post. This gives readers the option of going in and getting to know the backstory and you a little better or simply focusing on cooking your amazing recipe.

These are just a few small bits of advice for beginners, there are so many rewards in this industry, sprinkled with a few frustrations and it’s worth every moment.

Do you have questions or ideas?  Please email:  We would love to hear from you.




Wine Community Rallies to Provide Aid and Resources to Fire Victims

Wine Industry Organizations Throughout California Form Support Network to Assist Vintners in Three Counties; Leaders Call for National Support

photo paul restSANTA ROSA, Calif. (October 11, 2017)—Wine industry leaders have formed a support network to provide immediate assistance and long-term aid to victims of the fires ravaging Northern California and are calling on the national wine community for additional help.  Organized by a group of association leaders representing the Golden State’s major winegrowing regions, support efforts include fundraising and creation of an online resource where vintners can find and offer resources, such as generators, trailers, lodging and manpower.

“Our focus right now is on getting on-the-ground support to impacted growers and vintners to help stave off further damage,” says Ann Petersen, Executive Director of Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley.  “We need the entire wine community to support this region with immediate and strategic action.”

Petersen is working with other local industry leaders to organize resources and direct them to those in need.

Short-Term Help

Vintners in the affected areas have immediate on-the-ground needs, ranging from equipment to experienced manpower.  Priorities include:

  • Water Tanks, as local water resources are scarce and needed by firefighters; those who can provide should immediately email
  • Generators to power cooling tanks and other urgently-need equipment
  • Tractors and trailers to assist with moving grapes, equipment and debris
  • Lodging to house workers, including tents, mobile unites or locals willing to open their homes
  • Volunteer Labor. Experienced vineyard and cellar workers are needed; unskilled manpower is also welcome

The group has created an online form where supporters can list available resources and provide contact information.  Resource and contact information will be shared only with members of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino winegrowing and vintner associations. Click here to offer resources.

Long-Term Help

Established community foundations in each of the counties impacted by the Northern California wildfires have created relief funds to provide aid to local fire victims. The group of regional leaders organizing the wine industry support effort encourages those who cannot provide ground support to make a donation in any amount to the following funds:

“The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA wine community is heavyhearted today as we wath the continued impact of the wildfires on so many of our wine country brethren,” says Megan Metz, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.  “It’s times like these that remind us how important the company of family and friends can be. We have banded together to help our friends as best we can to protect their businesses and livelihoods and will continue partnering on recovery efforts in the weeks and months ahead.”

Communitywide fundraising efforts are underway and messaging is being organized around the hashtag #CAWineStrong.



Photo/Contributor Paul Rest

Summer Flavor Trends         

June 2017 by Ginger Johnson     

lemon grassSummer is upon us and beer is abundant. I often joke that Beer Season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Truth for all of us though is that there are flavorful beers available year-round. We’re living in a luckily robust gustatory age.

So, what flavors are hot this summer for beer? According to a number of online resources, spices such as cardamom, lemongrass, cinnamon and (a personal favorite) ginger are “in”. Five minutes doing a bit of searching online will yield myriad options for what to look for trending flavors, if you like to seek new and unique.

Here’s the deal:

  1. These flavors aren’t new, they’re simply trending right now. The good news = great news for drinkers! Simply enjoy the flavors you like, as you like them. Withhold any judgement, be a diplomat and really relax into the experience of tasting to get the most out of it.
  2. Be sure to explore. Preconceived notions and biases hold us back from discovering new flavors. Order a sample of a beer that may seem outlandish to you, share it with your flavor exploring friends, and then decide if you want a full serving. By the way, it’s really the second sip that will tell you what you prefer. The first sip warms us up – the second tells the truth.
  3. All the spices and flavors you read about now have been used for literally ever, in some sort of capacity. In fact, this renaissance of using ‘unique’ flavors is simply that: a renaissance. We cycle through flavors just as we cycle through fashion.
  4. Embrace the unusual. Since I love to cook, when I go out to eat, I seek dishes on menus that have something different from my home larder and buying habits. Experimenting with various new-to-you beer flavors will help an open-minded taster keep the joy of discovery alive and growing.

Beer WM ImageAs a flavor explorer, I encourage you to also seek out the brands you already enjoy – find out what they are making, fresh for the season and give those a try. My rule of thumb is that, even if I’ve tried it and didn’t particularly care for it previously, if I’ve not tasted it in the last 90 days, then I give it another taste. Our sensory systems change as we change, age and grow. The open mind is truly the best palate enhancer around.

Look for and ask for dates of tapping and packaging. Beer is a perishable product. It’ll be best 1. at the source and 2. fresh. Inquire with the server, retailer and distributor as to what the date coding may be for the beer you’re buying. Beer wants to give you the best possible experience (yes, it does) and freshness has everything to do with it. When you notice out of date beer, particularly packaged beer, ask the seller what they have that’s fresh.

Questions? Be sure to reach out anytime, reference Basil & Salt, and I’ll be happy to help as I can via email at

Until next time, cheers ~


You can find Ginger at the links below and also follow her on Twitter.

Entertainer, Flavor Maker, Speaker & Presenter, CEO Ginger Johnson & Women Enjoying Beer TEDxNapaValley  Talk

New Orleans: Harvesting Honey for the Soul by Paul Rest

by Paul Rest    March 13, 2017

I was living in New Orleans. Don’t ask me how I ended up there, it’s complicated. But there I was and soon I was loving The Crescent City. I just seemed to fit in. I really don’t know why? I didn’t sound like I was a local and I probably looked like I was from “up north” by the way I dressed. Of course I had an attitude about the way things were done in this still very socially stratified and segregated city, but the folks there seemed to take to me in spite of my quirkiness.

The food, oh the food, I was in the heart of a type of cuisine I had never experienced before. Talk about local. I had had some of this localness growing up, but nothing like what was about to happen. This was local before local was local. What people ate mostly came from within miles of where they lived. The vegetables, seafood, meat, herbs, hot sauces, breads, beers, almost everything, came from right there in and around New Orleans. It was a combination of French, Creole, African-American and Cajun cooking. These were tastes that were explosively new to my underdeveloped palate. And I loved every morsel.

Every week on my limited budget I was making new discoveries. There was a place deep in the French Quarter that I just happened to find one day about noon. I was starving and casting here and there for somewhere to have lunch (read, “inexpensive”) when I discovered this joint. Guy Fieri would have moved into the apartment above in a second and adopted this place as his own.

pastriesI entered the front room that apparently was a bar. It was dark and filled with clouds of cigarette smoke. The jukebox was playing 78’s (that’s 78 rpm records for those who aren’t familiar with vinyl). There was a curtain and on the other side was a serpentine lunch counter. A woman noticed me and commanded me in a firm voice, “Over here honey!” She was pointed to a just vacant stool. I saw down and ordered what I saw everyone else order. Red beans and rice with a smoked ham hock. Bread was included. I wanted to get seconds but realized there was a line out the door. I paid my two dollars including tip (this was a while ago) and thanked the woman behind the counter. After that, whenever I stopped in, she would see me, catch my eye and I would be seated as quickly as possible. I was known. And I didn’t have to order. She put my plate in front of me with a smile. “Here you go honey child.”

People would come up to me on the street and share their favorite “secret” places to eat. I discovered the amazing place on Tchoupitoulas Street that had this killer oyster loaf (think a whole French bread loaf sliced down the middle lathered with butter after being scooped out and then filled with a dozen of the most delicious fried oyster you’ve ever tasted). There was the oyster bar in the Pontchartain Hotel I was told about and where I from then on would down a half dozen just shucked oysters with a beer before jumping on the St. Charles street car as I headed back to my flat after a night with friends in the French Quarter. The truth be told, I had never eaten a real (i.e. raw) oyster before, but quickly fell totally in love with the local bivalves. Another time I was taken to a nondescript cinder block building on the shore of Lake Pontchartain where I had stuffed myself silly on soft shelled crab, fried oysters and freshly boiled crawfish. The large room had ceiling neon lights, long tables for family seating. Zero amenities.  For a room this size with probably a hundred plus people in it was very quiet. People were obviously concentrating on what was before them and not wasting energy on conversations.

And the beignets. A new friend I had just met took me there a few weeks after I had arrived. She and I went to the Café Du Monde. We were served our café au laits while waiting. And then this dish of heaven was put on the table before us. Growing up the Midwest I had had my share of donuts and delicious pastries, but nothing prepared me for that first bite, an explosion of confectioner’s sugar that covered my face and clothing. I didn’t care. The taste was out of this world. I quickly ate a second, then a third and a fourth. After, I must have looked like I was decorated for Christmas with powdered snowflakes because of all the confectioner’s sugar on me. Really. They do tend to explode when you take a bite. The Café Du Monde became a regular stop during the year I lived there. I took my parents there when they visited, and my sister, all my family. Everyone.

Paul Honey Okay, now about the honey. One of the families I met through a friend of a friend called me one day asking, “Do you like honey Paul?” I said yes and before I knew it was I was invited to help them harvest honey from their hives. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into but when I was told I could take home two-quart jars of honey I quickly put my reservations aside. I arrived at their home and saw that the kitchen table had been cleared of everything but an oilcloth covering. Before long, bowls of honeycomb began arriving from the hives outside. The whole room smelled of the richness of fresh honey.

“Like this,” my host said showing me how to break the comb apart into pieces. I grabbed a comb from the bowl I had in front of me and began following his example. Looking at the comb as I broke it apart, I realized there were still bee larvae in various stages in some of the individual sections of the comb. This was something of mild interest until I had one then another sensation. Bee larvae still in the comb were stinging me. Yet, the honey itself was acting as an astringent. There was no pain, just a slight sensation of the prick. The group around the table proceeded to break the combs into smaller manageable pieces that were then put in pre cut sheets of cheesecloth. Then we squeezed to force the honey out of the comb. It also acted as a filter, removing stray pieces of comb, dirt, bee parts and whatever else was there. It was work. I was sweating from the effort but enjoying every minute of this new experience. A second filtering with more cheesecloth produced a golden amber liquid. We filled jar after jar until a third of the table was covered with quart jars.

HoneyWhen we finished, we had lunch of local grilled Andouille sausages, French bread and a shrimp casserole washed down with cold beers. I looked at the far end of the table and saw the pieces of comb and detritus filled a number of bowls. My host explained that these would be left near the hives. The bees would recycle all: comb, unused honey, everything. “By tomorrow morning, nothing will be left,” he continued. He sealed my two jar of honey putting a piece of cheesecloth between the honey and the lid. The next morning, I toasted two slices of French bread, added butter and added the fresh honey. For the first time I had this sensation that I was eating something that came from my labors, from my hands (and thanks to the bees). It was and remains the best damn honey I’ve ever had.

Honey to and from the soul.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at

Written by Paul Rest / Edited Lightly by Karie Engels Giffin

Grandmother’s Cook Book by Paul Rest

paulWhen I was away at the university, the women in my grandmother’s church put together a cookbook. The pages were typed and then mimeographed. The book’s cover showed a woman churning butter. The book was titled, “Zoar’s Favorite Recipes.”

Zoar was the name of my grandfather’s church. It was the top of a “T” on two rural township roads. The white clapboard structure with the steeple could be seen for miles around through the rows of corn that filed the surrounding fields. The building had a main sanctuary where worship services were held, and a full basement where everything else happened. There was an outdoor bathroom (or, outhouse). Towering sycamore trees surrounded the building. These provided amble shade during the summer months when socials were held outside.

Zoar is a Biblical name that first appears in Genesis 14:8 in the Old Testament for those of you who are interested. The location was near the Dead Sea in the Lower Jordan Valley and the city was unique because it was an oasis in a parched landscape. Water flowed from the nearby mountains, which provided this lush green landscape. So, from the standpoint of the church elders when they formed the church (I believe sometime around 1871) chose the name for their church at that crossroads location in recognition of the thousands of acres of corn and soybeans. In other words, it was located in an oasis fertile soil and abundant crops.

The cookbook itself was a fund-raiser for the a group of women in the church called the “Ladies Aid Society.” Most churches throughout the Midwest had women’s groups like this. The men had their “Men’s Fellowship” and the women had their “Ladies Aid Society.” There were other women’s groups like “The Daughters of Ruth” but it was this group of women who did the heavy lifting.

They organized the church socials and other events during the church year. Besides the organizational aspect of putting the events together, it also meant making sure enough food was provided. And this extended beyond the church. The women also helped with sick and shut-ins members, and members of the community who were in need. This cookbook was this group of lady’s favorite recipes.

Most of these dishes I’m sure to have eaten at one time or another over the years growing up until I decamped and went off to the university. Events like the church socials were unparalleled displays of home cooked food. The ones at Zoar stretched the length of the church on the east side underneath those glorious shade trees. There were casseroles, vegetables raw and pickled, platters of Beefsteak tomatoes covered with salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar, deviled eggs, salads galore, potato salads, chickens fried and baked, hams with pineapple and smoked hams still smelling like hickory wood smoke; there were relishes both sour and sweet (this was the Midwest and before chilies had reached the American palate so nothing “hot” or to spicy, including garlic). Breads were provided, both white and whole wheat, some made by the ladies and other loaves were store-bought. Drinks included lemonade, iced tea, water, coffee and hot tea. This was a conservative part of Southern Indiana so church events were all “dry,” meaning no beer or wine was served.

And then there were the deserts. Pies, cakes, fudge; cupcakes, tarts, cookies, puddings and homemade candies were a feast to delight the eyes and gustatory senses. I’m talking about pie-overload, cake-overload, pudding-overload and overload everything. The secret was to pace oneself: One piece of pie, one piece of cake, and, maybe a tablespoon or two of pudding (my favorite was butterscotch), all eaten over the course of the afternoon. Any more than that, even with playing a couple of games of horseshoes or the usual softball game, well, you stood a chance you and your stomach of not making it home without an accident on those bumpy rural roads.

Of course, none of this happened until my grandfather said grace, thanking God for “the bounty set before us.” But even before this, the women of the Ladies Aid Society were already on duty, standing guard by the tables shooing flies and kids away, not necessarily in order, before my grandfather asked that the food be blessed.

Here’s one recipe from my grandmother’s cookbook, and one my mother used to make too.

**Printable recipe below


5 lbs. potatoes

1 large onion chopped (in small pieces*)

2 Tb salt

Pepper to taste

2 hard-boiled eggs (chopped)

After potatoes are cooked, mix all above together. Then cook this syrup: Fry four slices of bacon, drain and set aside. Use grease and add 2 large tablespoons flour or corn starch, and cook until slightly brown. Mix ½ cup vinegar, ½ cup water, 1-½ sugar and celery seed to taste. Add this to flour mixture, cook until thick. Combine with potatoes and crumble bacon on top. Doris Godeke” [*my addition] The potatoes were usually cut up so they would easily mix with the ingredients. Otherwise, the recipe is pretty clear. It’s very good and something I grew up on.

Obviously this is not food that would earn a James Beard award or a Michelin star, but food that would be satisfying to the eye and taste, and fill one’s belly with wholesomeness from the ladies who knew how to cook from the heart and soul.

German Potato Salad

  • potatoes5 lbs. potatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped, small pieces*
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • Four slices bacon
  • 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • celery seed to taste
  1. Boil potatoes until fork tender. set aside to cool.
  2. In medium size bowl, whisk the vinegar water, sugar and celery seed, set aside.
  3. In med fry pan, cook bacon until your desired doneness, pull from pan and set aside.
  4. Whisk flour or cornstarch with pan drippings until slighly brown. Slowly add the vinegar mixture to flour or cornstarch and cook until thick.
  5. Add mixture to potatoes and sprinkle with crumbled bacon.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at

Written by Paul Rest / Edited Lightly by Karie Engels Giffin


The Instagram Effect: The Pressure of Perfection How to deal with the self-esteem pitfall after giving birth

the-instagram-effectOur relationship with social media is definitely a love/hate one. As much as we enjoy seeing what’s up with our friends and our favorite celebrities, its also takes a toll on our self-esteem. New moms see celebrities shedding baby weight within a few weeks; fitness models that further promote their tight abs, cellulite-free, stretchmark-free bodies.  Then you have friends competing with one another… there’s Stephanie with her workout selfie, in yoga pants and sports bra, stroller jogging with the baby. She has 300 likes and 30 “Go girl!” comments. You still struggle to lose the muffin top and it’s been 6 months since you gave birth. It’s pressure!

Pregnancy, particularly the first one, can leave some women’s bodies virtually unrecognizable, and the attitude that women have to look perfect during and immediately after it, is widely perpetuated by celebrities and #instagramfamous new mommies. “Seeing beautiful, “perfect” women all over their newsfeeds can create serious self-esteem and anxiety issues in new mothers,” says New York City neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez Psy.D, professor at Columbia University. “After pregnancy, hormones are still raging, the woman is going through a roller coaster of feelings and adjusting to a whole new lifestyle; the added pressure to look perfect right away can be very emotionally disruptive,” she adds.

It’s common for women to become concerned that their partner will no longer find them attractive compared to the girls on their own newsfeeds. “While a little insecurity is normal, fretting over keeping your partner’s attention is counter productive,” says Hafeez. “You should focus on feeling healthy and strong again, and especially bonding with your partner and your child. The feel good chemicals your brain releases while making a connection with your new baby and adjusting to life as a family will boost your mood and stave off bad feelings.”

Some new moms might be motivated to “fix” their new body with surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons the demand for “Mommy Makeovers” has grown dramatically over the past 10 years; the most popular procedures, breast lifts and tummy tucks, have increased by 70% and 85% respectively. These surgery packages aim to combine a number of procedures in one surgery with one recovery period, meaning a woman can choose to undergo a breast lift, lipo and tummy tuck in one go.

These packages can also include reconstructive surgeries, different from cosmetic surgeries in that they seek to improve the function of the body, rather than alter it for aesthetic purposes. The most popular is vaginoplasty, which tightens the vagina, and some say even heightens sensitivity. Since 2010 interest in vaginoplasty has increased by 45%, possibly more according to various reports.

However, choosing plastic surgery to bounce back should be carefully considered. “Pregnancy and child birth are very traumatic for the body,” says North Carolina board certified plastic surgeon and best selling author Dr. John Zannis, “It is very important to give yourself a break.” Going under soon after pregnancy, especially for multiple procedures, is not recommended. The body needs time to heal and bounce back on it’s own, and depending on the age and individual metabolism of the woman, it will!

During pregnancy your organs move and grow. The uterus itself expands from the size of an orange to the size of a water melon and shrinks back to it’s normal size, but that process takes weeks or months, the main reason for your post baby belly. It takes some women as much as 2 years to fully bounce back. Many don’t give their body enough credit; it’s a natural machine and it knows what to do. You will lose about 12 pounds during delivery. Breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day and releases hormones that shrink your uterus. You need to give it time!

“If a new mom is set on getting any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, she should wait at least a year. This time period allows for the body to bounce back on its own, heal, regain its strength, and be ready to take the stress and trauma of invasive procedures,” advises Zannis.

“It’s also very important to remember that celebrities are human, but they are not “normal people”, they have a team of nutritionists, trainers, personal assistants, nannies; helping them and keeping them on a strict schedule, and a strict diet,” cautions Hafeez, “It’s unrealistic to expect yourself and your body to go back to supermodel shape in three months.”

“If a person lacks self esteem no amount of plastic surgery will satisfy them. This is when we see body dysmorphia and plastic surgery addiction. I encourage mothers to rejoice in that they are bringing life into the world and their over all health and well-being is most important for them and their baby. It’s great to want to lose the baby weight but set a realistic goal,” says Hafeez.

Many ad campaigns are in fact embracing different body types and a more realistic looking model is used. Some companies are even including real people and bloggers in their ads to show that 5’10” 118 pounds on a woman is not the norm. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

Content Provided by: Dr. Zannis and Dr. Hafeez

Christmas at Home: My Adventures in Cookie Land by Paul Rest

christmas-tins-paul-restChristmas officially began right before or after Thanksgiving. I can’t remember exactly when it began. The “it” being my mother’s cookie making marathon which when it started, went right up to a few days before we celebrated Christmas.

It started when she would bring all the cookie tins down from the top shelf in the pantry. These would be washed and dried and then stacked on a lower shelf, but still high enough that we kids couldn’t get on hands on them (or so she thought, but more on that later). Then, wonderful aromas would fill the house. Oh my, it was like living in the most wonderful pastry shop imaginable. Heavenly!

Fruitcake was first on the list. Candied fruits and ingredients were mixed, baked then covered with cheesecloth. The cheesecloth was soaked again and again with brandy, which was a heady smell in our normally “dry” household. These filled tins were placed in the pantry for later (and more soakings). Then the serious baking began and the kitchen table became an extension of my mother’s cookie making.

Sheet after sheet of cookies were put out to cool on the kitchen table. We kids were allowed one cookie each when we came home from school, which seemed like the cruelest thing that could be done to a kid. She guarded her cookies with vigilance worthy of an army drill sergeant. It was as if she knew the exact count of each tray of cookies, and if I tried to sneak an extra (I was the “bad” one) cookie or two, she knew and I’d get stuck with drying dishes for another night.

After the cookies cooled, they were carefully stacked in the tins. Later, the tins would be re-packed with a mix of cookies in each one. The tins ranged in sizes from a small 6 inches to the larger ones of 12 inches (for family and close friends). This went on day after day as Christmas approached intermixed with her usual chores: washing & drying on Mondays, ironing on Tuesdays, cleaning the house on Wednesdays and Thursdays, shopping on Fridays and preparing Sunday dinner on Saturdays. How she organized all this is still a mystery to me? But she did it for as long as I was home.

Okay, back to the cookies. After the tins were mixed and the cookies inside covered with waxed paper (minus the one or two I had snatched, more dish duty) we kids were drafted into her cookie army. We began by delivering all the smaller tins to neighbors. Every neighbor up and down the street was gifted a tin of cookies, even the gruff old man who’d always yell at me for missing his steps when delivering his afternoon newspaper. With great fear and trembling I would knock on his door and in a small voice offer him the tin of cookies. He would mumble a “thank you” and then slam the door.

When the next wave of cookie tins were stacked on the table for delivery. A couple of those wonderful smelling fruitcakes were included in the mix. The sealed tin was no match for the heady smell of brandy teasing my nostrils. These were for special friends. So, like one of the Magi without a star for a guide, I would wonder here and there through the hundreds milling in the church social hall after services. As members and friends chatted over coffee and pastries, I searched for the lucky recipient where I could finally deposit my gift tin, great or small.

“Here, this is from my mother,” I would say, making the exchange with as much grace as possible, a smile on my scrubbed face and wearing my best suit with newly shined shoes. I would receive a thank you and then race off to find my mother and be handed the next tin. Since Advent and Christmas involved quite a number of church services for our denomination, including one in German, I probably covered miles and miles in that social hall looking for the designated person. At times, the thank you included a hug or worse, a pat on the head. I often wondered how many tins made it home without begin opened. I knew I couldn’t do it.

The cookies she made included ginger bread, fruit bars with icing, and many kinds of German cookies (she was German-American) including Pfeffenmüsse, Spitzbuden, Lebkuchen, Spitz cookies (many shapes including stars) made with a cookie press; and there were more I can’t remember. My favorites were Springerle cookies, made with anise. I looked forward to that moment when the first whiffs of that unique smell began to fill the house. The dough was spread out on the kitchen table and then a special rolling-pin that would impress an image on each cookie. Fresh out of the over, the cookies would have a slight crunch on the outside but were soft and chewy inside. (A month later, they would become harder, very hard, think of a tile. But, they were perfect for dipping in one’s afternoon coffee, or my case, milk, to soften them.)

The recipe was so simple: (My mother always tried to do these recipes from memory but had a 3×5 card index with everything written down as a backup.)

Start with 4-5 cups of all-purpose flour/1 teaspoon baking powder/shift together/set aside. Then gently whip together 4 eggs & 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar until thick/stir in anise flavoring & lemon zest/mix with flour/cover and allow to set for at least an hour (my mother always did this in the refrigerator). When ready, roll the dough out in a rectangle with a thickness of about a half an inch (you don’t need to be perfect here). Roll out the cookies with a special Springerle rolling-pin and cut the edges with a fluted cookie cutter. Carefully place the cut cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees (175 C). (She checked these frequently beginning about the 18th minute.) When checking, make sure the edges aren’t turning brown. Cool and hide from me.

Often as she was baking, I’d walk in the kitchen and see my mother’s face coated here and there with flour from when she had wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “Mom, you’ve got…” She never let me finish. “I know. Now, skedaddle and let me get back to work.” I would turn and start to exit the kitchen, but not before turning right and looking longingly in the pantry’s open door to see the stacks of cookie tins growing taller day by day. Writing this, the smells come back to me and will probably never leave. Something for which I will be forever grateful.

Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at

Written by Paul Rest / Edited, Karie Engels Giffin

Innovative baskets find foothold in premium oyster farming markets by Andrew Spence

OYSTER baskets that improve farming efficiency while growing a higher quality product are helping an Australian company penetrate international markets. (Text & Video)

seapa_bannerSEAPA has been making its innovative baskets in Adelaide, South Australia, since 1998 but has doubled its size in the past 12 months on the back of strong sales into the US and France.

Originally designed for adjustable long line oyster farming, in the past three years new models of the baskets have been adapted so they can be retrofitted to different farming techniques, such as the French method or the increasingly prevalent sub-tidal technique in deeper waters.

The company has now established offices in the United States, Ireland, France, and Japan and has local staff in each region. It also has clients in Mexico, Canada and Portugal.

seapa_banner2SEAPA’s International Business Development Manager Andy Will said the success in the United States and France was the result of more than a decade in each region, working with local farmers to establish a foothold.

“There’s been a lot of time and investment put in to get us to this point and we’re only just scratching the surface in some of these large markets,” he said.

“We’ve been in the US since 2003 – we made a lot of mistakes, there’s no overnight success there but now we’re getting to the point where we are actually at the table.

“France is very similar. We’re just starting to see the potential in those markets.”

The SEAPA baskets are attached to long lines in rows similar to a vineyard and utilise the natural currents of the ocean and tidal movements to gently rock the baskets, moving the oysters around inside.

Will said the SEAPA baskets relied on the natural movement of the ocean to develop quality oysters, particularly for the premium half-shell market.

“The oysters like to move – that leads to a nice cup shape to the shell and it builds up the muscle and the more muscle the better,” he said.

“What we sell is a system that we would argue allows farmers to produce the highest quality oyster possible with as much efficiency built into that process.

“France is definitely a good example, the feedback we’ve been having is that purely based on the quality of the oyster that’s coming out, for every dozen oysters they are selling, they are getting one Euro extra and have won some gold medals at the Paris Food Show.”

SEAPA sells about 120,000 – 150,000 baskets a year, which are manufactured in Adelaide by its parent company Garon Plastics.

“The business has essentially doubled in size in the past 12 months, we’re looking at another 35-40 per cent this year,” Will said.

“We’ve had a dramatic shift. Up until then 25 percent of our market was export and 75 percent was in Australia – primarily in South Australia and Tasmania. Now it’s about 75 percent export – a big chunk of that is into the US – and 25 percent domestic.”

seapa_shallowChina produces about two thirds of the world’s 3 million tonnes of oysters a year. However, the Chinese oysters are generally tinned or used in cooking and not served in a half-shell at the premium end of the market.

Of the other 1 million tonnes, the United States and Japan produce about 25 per cent each and France about 10-15 per cent. Australia produces about 10,000 – 15,000 tonnes of oysters each year, less than one per cent of the world market.

The adjustable long line oyster farming method was developed on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula and is now being used to produce premium oysters throughout the world.

Oysters Australia President Bruce Zippel said this had been partly driven by a gradual shift in demand in the western world from bulk meat oyster products to premium half-shell oysters.

“Australians are very good at developing technologies and then selling it to their competitors, we’ve seen it in agriculture, wine and the oyster industry is no different,” he said.

“The oyster industry here probably has the best growing technology in the world as far as the half shell premium market goes.

“It is an expensive system compared to other traditional systems but the fact that these guys (SEAPA) have been growing their sales around the world is a good sign that the technology is being picked up.”

Will said having a “hand in glove” relationship with its manufacturer in South Australia had allowed SEAPA to maintain quality control and constantly improve its products.

“For every product that goes through the factory we increase the knowledge of the team, which directly gets reinvested in the next product and the next system,” he said.

“Everybody talks about being innovative but you’ve got to be building it for it to ring true.

“Quality is non-negotiable for us and we feel people are paying for quality in buying our product so we have to have a product that is going to do what it says and do it for a long time.”

Employing local staff overseas and having stock close to market were also crucial factors in the export growth.

“An Irish farmer wants to speak to a guy with an Irish accent,” Will said.

“Americans love Australians but they want to do business with someone who is American – France is the same.

“It doesn’t work for us just to go in and say this is the Australian way of doing business because people will put up with that to a point but if you want to do the long-term play we’ve got to invest in understanding them rather than the other way around.”

Whimsical Drink and Sports Pairings for the New Year

If you’re not quite sure what to change-up for the New Year, start with something simple like your favorite cocktail, brew or wine. Here are a few suggestions for sipping while watching your favorite sports –as well as some fun facts about practical jokes involving Tom Collins, ‘karate water’, and how alcohol affected Rupert Holmes’ music career.

Everyone knows just how well a pint in a pub goes with watching the footie. But what do you have with the F1? What about the tennis? The rowing? Worry not , this infographic has you covered.

Which classic drinks go with certain sports, based on weather and temperature, shared history, and tradition? Enjoy the following explanation and serving methods.

Vladimir and Kangaroos

As well as the pairings themselves, the infographic offers some interesting facts about the drinks, like:

  • Bloody Marys may be so-named as a mispronunciation of “Vladimir”, as the story holds that it was first made for Vladimir Smirnov – of the Smirnov vodka family.
  • Gin and Tonic came about as a way to stomach the taste of the quinine in tonic water, in order to prevent malaria – but doesn’t contain enough to actually have a positive effect.
  • Almost all beers labels in the US have to be approved by only one man, who makes sure they aren’t misleading (and he once banned a label that had the King of Hearts on it in case people thought it had health benefits).
  • A vodka martini, James Bond’s drink of choice, used to be called a “kangaroo cocktail”.
  • Guinness reached a hefty £6 million valuation in 1886 (as much as £670 million in modern money) despite never advertising and never owning a public house at that time.

Covering twenty drinks and sports, from Jägerbombs and snowboarding to vodka and ice hockey, it’s a journey through drinks of different cultures and flavours (and even different times of day!). What you put in your Bloody Mary is up to you – though we can’t recommend horseradish.

So whether you’re a wine drinker or like relaxing with a piña colada, a poker fan or a tennis watcher, make sure you check out the sports and drinks menu in this curious new infographic.


Thank you

Live a Hoppy Life in these Homebrew Hot Spots

home-brew-iiCelebrating the thriving community and culture of homebrewing, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA)—the leading community for homebrewers—unveiled a list of cities across the U.S. where homebrewing is on the rise.

By examining a number of factors including economic impact, proximity to craft breweries, homebrew clubs and membership, competition entries and more, the AHA identified budding areas for the fervor and fellowship of brewing at home.

“Craft brewing and homebrewing have long supported one another: a thriving craft beer community nurtures a healthy, growing homebrew culture, and vice-versa,” said Gary Glass, director, American Homebrewers Association. “Some cities are legendary for such pro-am symbiosis, while others are gaining well-deserved reputations as up-and-coming homebrew hot spots.”

The AHA List of Up-and-Coming Homebrew Hot Spots includes:

  • Boise, Idaho
  • Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Rochester, New York
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Windsor, California

home-brewWith an estimated economic impact of $1.225 billion, homebrewing is booming in America. A recent survey found that over three-quarters (78%) of homebrewers are more enthusiastic about brewing than they were three years ago.

“No matter where you live, we encourage everyone to try their hand at homebrewing,” added Glass.

Read the AHA’s “7 Homebrew Hot Spots to Visit Now” here. To find local info on breweries, beer bars and homebrew supply shops in these cities, download the AHA’s Brew Guru™ mobile app. Thinking about getting started homebrewing? Learn to Homebrew Day is on November 5. Find events around the country on the AHA website.

About the American Homebrewers Association:

The American Homebrewers Association has worked on behalf of the homebrewing community since 1978 and celebrates a membership of more than 46,000 homebrewers. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) organizes events including Homebrew Con and the National Homebrew Competition. The AHA also publishes Zymurgy magazine and offers the Brew Guru™ mobile app. The AHA is part of the Brewers Association, whose Brewers Publications division is the largest publisher of contemporary and relevant brewing literature for today’s craft brewers and homebrewers.

Beer lovers and anyone interested in making their own homemade beer are invited to learn more at Follow the AHA on Twitter, and join us on Facebook and Instagram.

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